AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
This qualitative study investigated the perceptions of friendship faced by teenagers diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. This research aimed to provide teachers with an insight into the social world of Asperger syndrome from a student perspective. A multiple-case study approach was used to collect data from 5 secondary school students in Australia. Data were collected through the use of semistructured interviews. An inductive approach to data analysis resulted in a number of broad themes in the data: (a) understanding of concepts or language regarding friendships, (b) description of what is a friend, (c) description of what is not a friend, (d) description of an acquaintance, and (e) using masquerading to cope with social deficits. The insights provided by the participants in this study are valuable for teachers, parents, and anyone else involved in inclusive education.
Children who have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome have difficulties in communicating with their peers and developing appropriate relationships with others at school. In spite of this, their intellectual ability can be within or above the normal range (Barnhill, Hagiwara, Myles, & Simpson, 2000). Researchers have agreed that difficulties communicating and learning unspoken social rules contribute to major challenges for children with Asperger syndrome as they develop (Church, Alisanki, & Amanullah, 2000; Frith, 1991; Koning & Magill-Evans, 2001). More specifically, idiosyncratic social skills present an enormous handicap in school, and continuing difficulties may result in aggressive behavior (Simpson & Myles, 1998) and depression (Barnhill, 2001). This is because these students frequently do not have the skills to engage in age-expected reciprocal social interactions (Simpson & Myles, 1998). Rather, these students could be described as socially awkward or self-centered with a lack of understanding of others. One reason social interactions are problematic for people with Asperger syndrome is that they experience difficulty in interpreting subtle social cues, particularly nonverbal body language (Koning & Magill-Evans, 2001). In addition, an inability to "mind read" means that these students will find it difficult to predict others' behavior, read the intentions of others, understand motives behind behavior, understand emotions, and understand how their behavior affects how others think or feel (Baron-Cohen, 1995; Baron-Cohen & Joliffe, 1997). These social and communication difficulties create additional stress for the developing adolescent at secondary school (Carrington & Graham, 2001).
Secondary students are required to cope with changes in routine and in behavioral expectations, engage in complex social interactions with peers and adults, and meet academic learning demands. In adolescence, when fitting in with peers is vitally important, complex, and stressful, students with Asperger syndrome have an increased need for social support and understanding. During their teens, these students generally become more aware of their differences. Carrington and Graham (1999) described how adolescents with Asperger syndrome have a need to fit in but do hot know how to do so.
Little research has been conducted describing the perception of friendship and social experiences of adolescents who have Asperger syndrome, and there has been even less qualitative research incorporating children's own words. Church et al.'s (2000) study described characteristics of Asperger syndrome, including social skills and feelings about friends over time and during specific developmental stages. This article contains specific examples and illustrations provided by a group of students who have Asperger syndrome to support the findings in Church et al.'s article.
With this study, we aimed to advance understanding of the social difficulties that are characteristic of individuals with Asperger syndrome while providing a voice to this group of students. We asked the following research question: What are the perceptions of friendship for a group of secondary school students who have Asperger syndrome? Our professional knowledge of Asperger syndrome and the particular social difficulties experienced by this group of secondary school students can be expanded by listening to and reflecting on the voices of the participants in this study.
Description of the Study
This research emphasizes personal reflections about friendship in order to improve our knowledge of the characteristics of teenagers with Asperger syndrome. Interpretative sociology provides a framework by which the researcher can enter the person's world and meanings to get an inside perspective. Specifically, a multiple--case study approach was employed to collect data from rive secondary school students. Semistructured interviews were used to obtain information from the participants. This approach enabled the adolescents to describe their own experiences in an open way. Researchers such as Minkes, Robinson, and Weston (1994) and Morris (1998) have discussed the importance of empowering individuals with disabilities by seeking their views. The goal of this type of research is not to explain but to understand the meanings the adolescents have constructed from their own experiences (McPhail, 1995). Ethical standards for research with children, such as attention to informed consent and ethical interview procedures, were considered in planning this study (Mahon, Glendinning, Clarke, & Craig, 1996).
The setting for the study was a large secondary school in Australia. The school provides support services to students with different learning needs and employs two special education teachers. Services the special education staff members provide include assisting with time-table organization, coordinating special education programs and curriculum modifications for students, supporting general education classroom teachers, advocating for students' needs, coordinating teacher assistants, and communicating with parents and outside agencies.
One of the special educators facilitated contact between the researchers and the students who have Asperger syndrome and their parents. Letters of information and consent were sent to eight families. Five students and their families agreed to participate in the study. The students agreed to be interviewed regarding their beliefs about and understandings and experiences of friendships. Pseudonyms have been used to protect the true identity of the participants. Characteristics of the participants in the study are summarized in Table 1. The school has a special education center that employs staff members to support students with …